By Scott Hillis Fri Feb 15, 10:16 AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Activision Inc on Friday unveiled a new "Guitar Hero" video game focusing on the rock band Aerosmith, taking the billion-dollar franchise in a new direction.
Called "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith," the new game will arrive in stores this summer, a surprise to many analysts and fans who had expected the next title to come out closer to the year-end holiday shopping season.
Aerosmith, known for hits such as "Dream On" and "Sweet Emotion," is the top-selling American rock band of all time, with sales of 66.5 million albums in the United States alone.
The game will feature about 30 Aerosmith songs as well as others from various acts that have opened for the band. The price has not yet been set.
"The premise is that it's going to cover the 30-plus years of the band, from high school all the way through the rock superstardom of today," Kai Huang, head of Activision's RedOctane unit, which guides development of the franchise, told Reuters in an interview.
In the "Guitar Hero" games, players try to press colored buttons on a guitar-shaped controller in time with notes cascading down the screen. If the notes are hit, the song plays properly, and the player earns points.
Since the original "Guitar Hero" was released in late 2005, the series has gone on to sell more than $1 billion. Depending on the version, a bundle including the game and a controller costs from $80-$100, while the stand-alone game costs $40-$60.
When Activision reported quarterly earnings last week, analysts grilled the company on its plans for the franchise, expressing concern that sales would slow this year because many players who bought earlier versions with guitars would opt to buy the lower-price stand-alone game disks.
Huang said Activision had not yet decided whether it would offer a special controller with the Aerosmith game.
The focus on a single band marks a new twist for the franchise, whose three main titles featured dozens of artists spanning classic rock, grunge, metal, punk and other rock subgenres. Last year, Activision also released "Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s" with songs from that decade.
"It's just a completely new way to interact with this music and with Aerosmith, and we think there's more opportunity to do that in the future," Huang said.
By spotlighting a single band, the company has also come up with a way to counter rival music game "Rock Band" from Viacom Inc unit MTV and Electronic Arts Inc, Activision's top competitor.
"Rock Band," which includes drums and a microphone as well as a guitar, each week has offered new songs that can be downloaded to consoles like Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 and Sony Corp's PlayStation 3.
The music industry is eyeing "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" as a way to revive flagging sales. "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero 3," both launched last fall, have together sold millions of songs at about $2 each via download.
Speaking of Aerosmith's willingness to work on the project, Huang said: "They recognize that it can deliver their music in an innovative and new way. It's a new distribution platform for them."
To recreate the sense of attending an Aerosmith concert, developers held motion-capture sessions with band members, including energetic frontman Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry.
"As you play," Huang said, "you're going to be seeing Joe and Steven doing their moves onstage."